Nothing wrong with bringing in ballpark fences
More pitcher-friendly parks should follow Citi Field example
That dark tunnel for the New York Mets is becoming gloomier these days, and it is courtesy of everything from legal woes regarding the Bernard Madoff fraud case to trying to reverse three straight fourth-place finishes in a National League East that isn't for the meek.
Until proven otherwise, the Mets are as meek as they come, especially if star players David Wright, Johan Santana and Ike Davis aren't fully recovered from their 2011 aches and pains.
Still, there is light in that Mets tunnel, and it isn't the approaching No. 7 train from Manhattan.
It is the new fences at Citi Field.
Compared to last season, those fences will be closer to home plate overall, and they will be shorter by eight feet than they were in left field, dubbed by some in New York as "The Great Wall of Flushing."
Which means, to the delight of hitters, the three-year-old home of the Mets finally won't rival the size of Central Park.
Which means Mets players Jason Bay and Wright won't have to gripe as much about watching home runs off their bats land easily in the gloves of outfielders -- if not infielders.
Which means the Mets should score more with much help from additional home runs.
Which means the Mets also should reverse their steady slide in attendance since that iconic Nike commercial involving Tom Glavine and Greg Maddux had it partially right: Chicks dig the long ball.
The whole truth is, nearly everybody digs the long ball. Which means, even if the Mets spend another season struggling in the standings, they'll give fans more reasons to fill, not only those previous 41,800 seats at Citi Field, but the additional 140 that were added courtesy of altering the ballpark for the new fences.
Mets general manager Sandy Alderson told New York reporters, "I don't want to give you the impression that we've done this for David [Wright] or Ike [Davis] or for anyone in particular. It's really about having a more neutral ballpark and maybe, even to some extent, given that offense is exciting for many fans, it will be slightly more entertaining."
No question there.
I'm just wondering why others don't get it (are you listening in San Diego, San Francisco and Seattle, for instance?).
Stolen bases are nice. So are diving catches, strikeouts by hometown pitchers and the singing of "Take me out to the ballgame" during the seventh-inning stretch.
It's just that, except in rare cases (so rare that I can't think of an example at the moment), the majority of folks at games would rather see a slugfest than a pitching duel. They also prefer watching more than a few balls settle beyond the fences or walls.
In case you didn't know, that Ruth guy began as a wonderful pitcher, but he was more "George Herman" back then. He didn't become "Babe" until he started ripping pitches toward the ozone.
Hank Aaron finished his 23-year career with more total bases, RBIs and extra-base hits than anybody. Even so, most only know that Aaron owned what was for a long time a record 755 home runs.
And why do you think they called it "The Big Red Machine?" With sluggers throughout their lineup, those Cincinnati Reds teams were huge draws at home and on the road.
The San Diego Padres would just settle for more home fans, but unlike the Mets, the Padres blew it this season.
San Diego decided earlier this winter not to shorten the fences at its beautiful, yet outrageously large ballpark, called Petco Park. Not only did the Padres finish last in the NL West last season, they were offensively boring while doing so.
Only three teams in the Major Leagues managed fewer runs in 2011 than the Padres. It didn't help their cause that they dealt splendid hitter Adrian Gonzalez to the Boston Red Sox during the offseason.
But what contributed to the Padres' offensive issues as much as anything was their home ballpark. From home plate to the fences, it is 334 feet down the left-field line, 367 feet to left field, 401 to the left-field alley, 396 to center, 400 feet to the right-field alley, 382 feet to right field and 322 feet down the right-field line.
The 2011 Padres hit .221 at home and .252 on the road, but in response to that wide gap, they preferred to hire their sixth hitting coach since Petco Park opened in 2004, instead of altering the fences.
Phil Plantier, that new Padres hitting coach, told USA Today that he wants his players to use Petco's vastness to their benefit. "Line drives work no matter where you're playing," Plantier told the paper, which is true.
So is this: Home runs are better.
The only ballpark in the Majors that allowed fewer home runs per game last season than Petco Park (1.23) was AT&T Park in San Francisco (1.00). That said, the Giants continue to pack fans into their sparkling gem by the Bay, and they also won the World Series just two seasons ago with a heavy emphasis on pitching.
But AT&T Park still needs offensive tweaking.
In fact, the Giants' Mark DeRosa told reporters last season, "Maybe you don't move the fences in. But I think you saw maybe two balls go out to right-center this year. So they definitely should cut the corner. Have another wall go across.
"Maybe put something nice back there. I don't know. Does San Francisco have a city tree?"
I don't know about a city tree for San Francisco, but I do know that Seattle has a city flower. It's called the Dahlia, and at times, Mariners fans get more excitement out of watching those flowers grow during home games than studying their team at the plate.
The Mariners have ranked among the worst offenses in baseball over the past two seasons, and there is no help is in sight. Free agents want no part of ballparks with distances such as 390 feet from home plate to the left-field alley, and 387 to the right-field alley.
Readers were asked during a recent poll on Seattlepi.com if the Mariners should move in the fences at Safeco Field, and 21 percent of the near 2,000 respondents said no. Sixty-seven percent said yes.
So what's the problem?
Terence Moore is a columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.